The Blue & Gray Press

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Mark Snyder: UMW’S quirkiest music professor

5 min read

University Relations


“Booga-doo” is word that might not have a definition, but it most definitely has a nice ring to it. Almost like a hook in the chorus of a song, it will reel you in the first time you hear it, follow you wherever you go, and likely belongs somewhere in Urban Dictionary. This is but one of the many catch-phrases of Dr. Mark Snyder, Assistant Professor of Music, and Digital Studies at the University of Mary Washington.

Snyder is responsible for founding the university’s annual electronic music and art festival entitled the Electroacoustic Barn Dance, was nominated for the 2016 Grammy Educator Award by the Recording Academy and GRAMMY foundation, and has been featured on National Public Radio’s program With Good Reason, just to name a few major accomplishments. On top of all of this, he has his Doctorate of Musical Arts in Composition from the University of Memphis in 2007, and a Master’s of Music in Composition from Ohio University in 2003. He also received a Bachelor of Arts in Music from our very own university when it held the title Mary Washington College back in 1997.

During his time here, Snyder has taught sixteen courses in the Music Department, and created five of them. He also designed the UMW Recording Studio in Pollard, and the Music Production Lab, as well as modernized the Bachelor of Arts music curriculum from the original history and theory based program, and added technology, performance and composition emphases. Ever since students and faculty both have been able to record and produce their own music and coursework with the new resources he brought to UMW.

His students have notably been taught through their coursework, to compose, perform, record and produce their own music and projects as well as do the same for others. They have also put on student-run concerts during each semester that feature student and faculty works. Along with all of this, UMW students have also been given several undergraduate research grants so that they can travel and present their student compositions at multiple schools for adjudicated, invited, international, national, regional and local performances. In case you were wondering his students have also been granted the opportunity to work in the music industry, before and after graduating for internships and jobs.

Snyder is incredibly involved with his students, getting them plenty of hands-on experience in a career-field their interested in pursuing. Speaking from personal experience, all of his compassion and hard work really shines through his student’s accomplishments and the amount of experience they all receive through having the incredible opportunity to learn from him. He’s most definitely one of the most personable, caring and helpful teachers out there, regardless of whether you are a music major, aficionado, or this is your first musical experience.

Speaking of being personable, most of his students including myself call him Mark rather than Dr. Snyder. The ability to not only have a fantastic mentor, but a friend in a professor is not something that happens every day, but then again, this isn’t your everyday professor.

I asked each of the following individuals the following question, “If you could pick just one thing, what has impacted your experience and UMW the most about having Mark as a professor?”

Mya Payne, a junior Spanish major with a linguistics minor shared her answer with me. “Well there are so many things I could say, but what has impacted me the most has been his determination in having students achieve. By that, I mean he actually gives students the opportunity to showcase their talents in more ways than just music; to me, that’s more than any professor has ever attempted for such a large range of students.”

Becky Brown, a UMW alumna who graduated in 2015 with a Bachelor’s degree in Music and Computer Science said, “I’d say the sheer breadth of the experiences I’ve been given. Gone to conferences, performed music at festivals, tech directed a festival, met all kinds of people from all over the field and experienced their work. And if not that, then either the Barn Dance or composition lessons. Running tech for two straight days gives you a lot of confidence in your ability to handle life under pressure. As for composition lessons, having someone expect you to do great things means you’ll do a lot to try and reach that bar”.

During my interview with Dr. Snyder, he answered a few questions for me, and here they are.

1.     What do you love most/ think is the most important thing about teaching?

“Student accomplishments of course! Watching the hard work lead to performances, recordings, grad school acceptances, jobs, awards, grants and presentations at conferences makes me feel amazing even when I get rejected and my students are accepted to conferences, I have crossed into some sort of dimension where your success matters more than my own. It’s a strange place for a spoiled only child to be.”

2.     What made you come back to teach at UMW after being a student?

“I came back for two reasons. I wanted to make the greatest Liberal Arts Music Department in the country. The curriculum change is an example of that vision for a musical future for any and all music students regardless of talent but dependent on a broad liberal based curriculum that would prepare them for a music industry that looks nothing like the one I graduated into. A curriculum that proves how good the liberal arts can be and I think a liberal arts general education class producing an ASCAP Morton Gould Award.

Snyder’s second reason for coming back was because “My favorite professor was Pat Norwood and thankfully, when my dad died my junior year, she went with me to the church to help me with selecting the music because I had picked one of his favorites, Ode to Joy. She went back after I left and made sure that such a mess was not created with my poor choice of a Hymn that would have celebrated his death and she was on Sabbatical! I worshiped my father so I had to write him a requiem mass that summer and it needed to be performed by his church choir and an orchestra I put together, mainly with UMW folks and members of the Richmond and National Symphonies.

Every week for five weeks, Dave Long loaded his van with four heavy timpani, orchestral chimes and a large piece of plywood he bought himself to put across the pews at Colonial Aquia Church to stand on with the timpani. I had and still have a lot of musical heroes but they were my life heroes. Selflessly putting students first at their own expense whether it was time or money and they gave unconditionally. I wanted to do for students what they did for me and I feel that I’ve stayed true to the example and high standard that they set for me.”

3 thoughts on “Mark Snyder: UMW’S quirkiest music professor

  1. Professor Snyder had been an excellent teacher! He has been a strong nurturing and guiding influence on Gwen Levey and a valuable collaborator, mentoring her in music and lyrics! ??? Ingrid and Mark Levey

  2. Made people in the one class I took with him look like idiots. Once called a student “stupid” and tried to play it off like he was joking. The guy in this article is not the professor I had.

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